On Monday, SeaWorld launched a new ad campaign answering commonly asked questions.
One question in particular that has grabbed readers’ attention is regarding killer whale lifespans. SeaWorld addresses the question in a video of Dr. Dold, head veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando. Dr. Dold quotes Dr. Doug Demaster of Alaskan Fisheries Science Center who states:
“Survival in the wild is comparable to survival in captivity.”
Politifact broke this controversial issue down further revealing that SeaWorld again is reporting only half-truths.
Politifact's conclusion was:
At its core, this claim is an oversimplification of a much more complex issue. Recent independent data suggests that survival rates for captive and wild orcas are about equal, but that by itself isn't all that significant, experts told us. The data is limited and comparisons between orcas in captivity and in the wild are tenuous. Experts also noted that logic suggests captive whales should live longer because they don't face predators and receive medical care, which makes SeaWorld's claim further misleading.
Lastly, experts said that a simple measurement of survival rates (or lifespan) serves as a smokescreen from the more fundamental question of the conditions for whales in captivity.
While it is true that killer whales kept in captivity are living longer lifespans now than in the past, the data is incomplete. The killer whale collection at SeaWorld is a combination of animals from different wild populations, cross-bed (and inbred), having no real way to compare them to any particular wild orca population. Many wild populations have not been studied in depth to even know what their lifespans are.
We do know that Granny, estimated to be over 100 years old, continues to thrive as the matriarch of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.
The video fails to mention the unnatural causes of death for many of these animals, nothing like those of their wild counterparts.
For example, in 1989 Kandu V severed an artery after ramming Corky at the beginning of a show in San Diego causing her to bleed out.
In 1990, Kanduke died of St. Louis encephalitis, a mosquito-borne illness. Killer whales in the wild never come in contact with mosquitoes. Those in captivity spend much of their time logging at the surface in warm climates, putting them at risk.
Kotar reportedly had learned how to open the gates between pools through the years. In 1995 after opening the gate it came crashing down on his skull, killing him.
The gates in the stadium continued to be a problem for SeaWorld’s killer whale collection as recent as November of last year when pregnant Kalia was trapped in the gate.
SeaWorld dismissed the issue by passing it off as “gate play”.
One of the major causes of infection and death of SeaWorld whales is the whales’ dental hygiene. Many captive killer whales suffer broken teeth from “jaw popping” or chewing on the metal gates or concrete tanks. This leads to a pulpotomy resulting in the need to have their teeth flushed three times per day. This is what SeaWorld refers to as “excellent veterinary care”.
The question of lifespan in SeaWorld’s killer whales is only one of many questions that their new ad campaign is trying desperately to answer, however their response leaves out many important details. The science used in their answer is not solid, and the causes of death are not revealed.
More important than lifespan of these whales is the quality of life they are living...far from ideal.
New websites, a new CEO, and new ad campaigns are not going to stop this sinking ship. The public is smarter than SeaWorld gives them credit for.